Are nasal polyps running your life?
Having nasal polyps – small, usually harmless growths in the lining of the nose or sinuses – is not uncommon in adults. In fact, an estimated 3 million Americans have nasal polyps. But for some, severe symptoms of runny nose, stuffiness, and postnasal drip due to long-term inflammation can become troublesome and make you feel like they are taking over your life.
Medical specialists treat nasal polyps with medications such as corticosteroids or surgery. For some people, more than one surgery is needed. Clinical research is growing our understanding of severe nasal polyps and how to treat it. Read on to learn more about its causes, symptoms and how it is diagnosed and treated.
If you are living with nasal polyps, we would like to hear from you:
- Please take our brief online survey to tell us about your experience living with nasal polyps.
- At the end of the survey, you can sign up to be considered for an upcoming clinical trial.
Thank you for your interest.
What are nasal polyps and how do they affect you?
Nasal polyps are, simply, small and usually harmless growths in the nasal lining or sinuses. The most common area to be affected is the narrow area in the upper part of the nose, where the mucous membranes come into close contact.
They usually result from chronic (long-term) inflammation due to infection, allergies, drug sensitivity, or immune disorders.
Symptoms may include runny nose, stuffiness, loss of sense of smell, facial pain or headache, or postnasal drip (a feeling of mucus running down the back of the throat, leading to constant coughing, throat clearing, or sore throat). Some people don’t know they have nasal polyps and may not notice any symptoms.
Who is at risk and what other problems are they related to?
About 1-4% of the general population has nasal polyps, mainly adults. Men are more likely than women to develop it, although anyone can be affected.
Any condition that triggers chronic inflammation in your nasal passages or sinuses, such as infections or allergies, may increase your risk of developing nasal polyps. Conditions often associated with nasal polyps include:
- Asthma, a disease that causes airway inflammation and constriction
- Aspirin sensitivity may cause some people to be more likely to develop nasal polyps
- Allergic fungal sinusitis, an allergy to airborne fungi
- Cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that results in the production and secretion of abnormally thick, sticky fluids, including thick mucus from nasal and sinus membranes
- Churg-Strauss syndrome, a rare disease that causes inflammation of the blood vessels
Your family history also may play a role. There is some evidence that certain genetic variations associated with immune system function make you more likely to develop nasal polyps.
Potential complications of nasal polyps include:
- Obstructive sleep apnea, a potentially serious condition that causes frequent breathing problems during sleep
- Asthma flare-ups, caused by chronic (long-term) nasal and sinus inflammation
- Sinus infections, a potentially recurring bacterial infection of the nasal and sinus passageways
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease, a digestive disorder that can cause heartburn or acid indigestion
Experts don’t fully yet understand why or how these conditions are related to each other, and research is ongoing into their causes and effects.
Who treats nasal polyps?
Medical specialists who diagnose and treat nasal polyps include:
- Primary care provider (PCP) — Prevents, diagnoses, and treats diseases.
- Allergy & immunology doctor — Treats allergy and immune system disorders.
- Otolaryngologist (ENT specialist) — Treats ear, nose, and throat disorders.
How are nasal polyps diagnosed?
When symptoms of runny nose, congestion, stuffiness, facial pressure, headache, etc., last longer than 12 weeks (defined as ‘chronic’), a diagnosis of nasal polyps is considered. The doctor can typically reach a diagnosis based on your medical history and symptoms, a physical exam, and by examining your nose with a simple lighted instrument. Other diagnostic procedures include:
- Nasal endoscopy. A narrow tube with a lighted magnifying lens or tiny camera (nasal endoscope) is used to look inside your nose and sinuses. The doctor inserts the endoscope into a nostril and guides it into your nasal cavity.
- Imaging studies. Images obtained with computerized tomography (CT) can help your doctor pinpoint the size and location of polyps in deeper areas of your sinuses and evaluate the extent of inflammation. These studies may also help your doctor rule out other possible obstructions in your nasal cavity, such as structural abnormalities.
- Allergy tests. Skin tests may help determine if allergies are contributing to chronic inflammation. With a skin prick test, tiny drops of allergy-causing agents (allergens) are pricked into the skin of your forearm or upper back. The drops are left on your skin for 15 minutes before your doctor or nurse observes your skin for signs of allergic reactions.
- Blood tests. If a skin test can not be performed, your doctor may order a blood test that screens for specific antibodies to various allergens.
- Test for cystic fibrosis. If you have a child diagnosed with nasal polyps, your doctor may suggest testing for cystic fibrosis, an inherited condition affecting the glands that produce mucus, tears, sweat, saliva and digestive juices. The standard diagnostic test for cystic fibrosis is a noninvasive sweat test, which determines whether your child’s perspiration is saltier than most people’s sweat is.
How are nasal polyps treated?
Depending upon the size, severity and other complications, medications may be used to reduce the nasal polyps and related problems, such as:
- Steroid - Modifies or simulates hormone effects, often to reduce inflammation or for tissue growth and repair.
- Prednisone – Used to reduce the inflammatory response in many diseases and conditions.
- Fluticasone – Used to treat pain, itching, and swelling caused by many skin diseases when applied topically. It can also prevent asthma attacks when inhaled.
- Budesonide – Taken orally to treat Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. When inhaled it can prevent asthma attacks.
- Beclomethasone dipropionate – Used to prevent asthma attacks.
- Flunisolide – Used to prevent asthma attacks.
- Mometasone – Used to prevent asthma attacks when inhaled. In its topical form it can also treat rashes and other skin problems.
If medications do not work to relieve symptoms and shrink the polyps, surgery is the next approach. With this, a small tube is inserted with a magnifying lens or tiny camera called an endoscope into the nostrils. The surgeon guides this to the sinus cavities and uses tiny instruments to remove the polyps or other obstructions that are blocking the sinuses. The surgeon may also enlarge the openings of the sinuses leading to the nasal passages. This is all done as an outpatient procedure.
You may help reduce your chances of developing nasal polyps or having nasal polyps recur after treatment with the following strategies:
- Manage allergies and asthma. Follow your treatment plan for managing asthma and allergies. If your symptoms aren’t well-controlled, talk to your doctor about changing your treatment plan.
- Avoid irritants. As much as possible, avoid breathing airborne substances that are likely to contribute to inflammation or irritation of your nose and sinuses, such as allergens, tobacco smoke, chemical fumes, and dust and fine debris.
- Avoid spread of germs. Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly. This is one of the best ways to protect against bacterial and viral infections that can cause inflammation of the nasal passages and sinuses.
- Humidify your home. Use a humidifier if the air in your home tends to be dry. This may help moisten your breathing passages, improve the flow of mucus from your sinuses, and help prevent blockage and inflammation.
- Use a nasal rinse. Use a saltwater (saline) spray or nasal lavage to rinse your nasal passages. This may improve mucus flow and remove allergens and other irritants.
Clinical trials are helping medical researchers better understand nasal polyps, its causes, and how to treat it. Finding these answers depends on people like you to take part.
Have you considered taking part in a clinical trial for people with nasal polyps?
Potential benefits of participating in a clinical trial include:
- Close care and monitoring by a study doctor and staff throughout the study
- No cost for study treatment, related tests and procedures
- Contribute to our understanding of the treatment options for nasal polyps
If you would like to be considered for an upcoming clinical trial in nasal polyps, take our survey.
If you are living with nasal polyps, we would like to hear from you.
Please take some time to answer a few questions and be considered for an upcoming clinical trial for people with nasal polyps. We also invite you to join our Asthma Team patient community to connect with others with nasal polyps and related conditions.
Thank you for your interest.
If you would like to be notified about an upcoming clinical trial in nasal polyps, you may sign up at the end of our survey.